To watch video highlights of the reunion, click here.
It was a scene that repeated itself over and over again at last week’s reunion of the 1970-72 Hobbs High School football teams.
Players nearing their sixties and traveling from as far as Arizona and Arkansas walked into the lobby of the Arlington Hilton, glanced at a gathering group of back-slapping men and tentatively approached classmates they hadn’t seen in more than four decades.
“You Don? Don Pearson? Nah, Golly, man!” Pat McMurray said in disbelief before breaking into a grin of recognition and hugging the 1970 team’s starting defensive end who now lives in Wichita, Kan.
A few minutes later, Pete Farmer of Hobbs
(‘71) and Bobby Kelley (‘71 and ‘72) were taking off caps and comparing bald heads. “Pete, we were losing our hair when we were sophomores,” chortled Kelley, who has spent most of his professional career in Dallas brokering diamonds.
“You look just like your daddy,”another chimed in when Vernon Patterson drove in from Charlotte, N.C.
“Thanks! Thanks a lot!” said the son of former longtime Lea County lawman Pat Patterson.
Dubbed “A Gathering of Eagles,” the event honored four football coaches – three of whom now live in the Metroplex area - from the last state championship football teams fielded by Hobbs High School. They included head coach Doug Ethridge, who arrived in Hobbs from Monahans in 1968 and brought with him a multiple-set offense that was ahead of its time, according to Dan Foster, a half back and defensive back on the ’71and ’72 squads. “Coming to a basketball school – we were scoring 170 points in a game – I know that’s a tough road going into a basketball school like that and (Ethridge) did it,” said Foster, now an orthopedic surgeon in nearby Bedford.
Ethridge wasn’t in Hobbs long – he left after the 1971 team was upset by Las Cruces Mayfield in the playoffs on a fluke play – but he stayed long enough to put one state title in the history books and pave the way for a second championship in 1972. (The Eagles would avenge the previous year’s loss with a 31-15 drubbing of the Mayfield team).
After a weekend of reminiscing, players and coaches alike agreed that a “perfect storm” of talented athletes and coaches led to championship seasons that only a few are lucky enough to experience.
“Nothing in life matches the intensity, the pressure, the feeling of accomplishment of participating and then winning the state championship,” Patterson said.
But the real wins, players agreed, came from the life lessons and examples set by Ethridge, Ken Clearman, Charlie Williams, Buck Brandon and the late Pat Tone, George Janes and Kyle Ellis.
“These were tremendous men,” said Steve Cooper, who now heads Chevron’s human resources department in Houston but never imagined attaining that kind of success as a troubled teenager.
“You challenged us to be better than what we were,” Cooper said during a banquet that had an equal share of good-natured ribbing and unabashed tears. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you did for me that helped pull me out of that sewer and helped me become the man that I became.”
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 31, wide receiver Kevin Wieser (’72) said the mental and physical conditioning of his teenage years helped him deal with a disease that has hobbled, but not grounded him. “We were trained not to quit and I was not going to let it get the best of me,” said Wieser, a former youth minister who now lives near Little Rock.
“They allowed us to drink the black and gold Kool-Aid,” Kelley added. “And they taught us how to win.”
Kelley and Wieser were the driving force for the reunion. The pair ate lunch a couple months ago with Ethridge and Clearman and “had the most amazing visit you could imagine,” Kelley said. “At the end of the day, Kevin and I walked away and said,
‘You know, we shouldn’t be the only two guys who get to do this.’ And that’s kind of how this all sprang up."
So Kelley and Wieser tracked down former teammates, photographs, newspaper clippings and games films. Key to the process was the team’s unofficial statistician Arnold Thomas, a 1970 defensive back who would later spend 30 years on the sidelines as a Texas high school athletic trainer. When he won the state’s Athletic Trainer of the Year award in 1999, it was none other than Ethridge – an inductee into the Texas High School Coach’s Hall of Fame himself - who presented him the award. “That’s one of the proudest moments I’ve had – knowing I coached Arnold,” Ethridge said of the ceremony.
Also key to the reunion process was Johnny Johnson, a halfback on the ‘72 team who put together a program and souvenir banner that players signed and sent back to Hobbs as an inspiration for the 2013 crop of football-playing Eagles. The recipient of the
Jim Ellison Fighting Eagle award, Johnson said the trophy now sits in his office and helped him battle through the self doubt he experienced when he lost his job and later opened a printing business.
“Boy, I tell you those first years were really hard,” Johnson said.
“(The award) reminds me as a business person to never, ever give up. I was taught that by the coaches.”
In the meantime, Arizona manufacturing manager Mike Cooper, an offensive guard on the 1970 team, said that future generations are getting a dose of Ethridge coaching philosophy. “The ugliest, most brutal thing you ever did to me was when you got in my face one day and said, ‘Is that the best you could do?’” Cooper told Ethridge. “I’ve taken that and used that with my children and grandchildren. I look them in the eye and say, ‘Is that the best you can do?’”
Like the rest of the coaches, Williams said working in Hobbs was easy. “Because (the players) didn’t care about who got the credit, he said. “And the successes(they’ve) had could be predicted.”
Clearman,who would spent nine years coaching with Ethridge in Texas (their Port Neches High School team defeated Odessa Permian at Cowboy Stadium in 1975 for another state championship), said he didn’t realize the impact he was having on students. He was simply following Ethridge’s trademark philosophy. “If a kid made a mistake, you’d tell him what he did wrong. You didn’t have to chew him to where he hates to come to practice and be part of the game.”
“We didn’t use bad language,” Ethridge agreed. “That was one of rules. We knew that’s the way you’re supposed to bring kids up. Treat them the right way. Treat them like you want to be treated.”
It’s a philosophy that Charles Gleghorn, the current HHS head football coach, said he also embraces. “I’ve heard a lot about being in the right place at the right time and I think I’m that guy,” said Gleghorn –
a special guest at the reunion banquet and its final speaker.
“We don’t yell at kids. We teach them. I’ve been in six state championship games – two as a player and four as a coach and I’ve never lost one.
And we’re going to get seven. And it’s going to be at Hobbs.”
“Being taught how to coach with Coach Ethridge, (Gleghorn), almost sounds like Coach Ethridge,” Buck Brandon would say the morning after the banquet. A scout for the football teams during the championship era, Brandon – who still lives in Hobbs and went on to coach state champion golfers – said he was honored to be apart of the event.
“I didn’t sleep much last night thinking about all of that,” Brandon said. “All of the coaches, we couldn’t believe it that they really thought that much of us.”
Tony Aguilar, Ronnie Pryer and Coach Buck Brandon had a blast from the past when they spent a portion of the six-hour drive from Hobbs to Arlington riding in Pryer’s Suburban and listening to a broadcast of a 1971 HHS football game.
All thanks to Pryer’s dad, who religiously recorded the radio broadcast of his son’s football games on reel-to-reel tapes.
When Pryer found the tapes in a cardboard box - they featured the voice of radio station owner HarryMcAdams -
he had them tapes digitized to CD.
That’s why Aguilar– who never heard the original broadcast – got goosebumps when he heard his name called on a play he’d made 42 years earlier. “It made the hair on my neck stand up,” the former offensive tackle said.
By the time the Hobbs men arrived at reunion headquarters, all of their hair
- what little they had remaining at any rate- was standing up. That’s because the 1971 game at Carlsbad was a nail biter that would go down in the annals of local football lore.
With Carlsbad at 6-0 heading into district play and fielding one of the best teams in more than a decade, Hobbs was in enemy territory at Caveman field. But not without Hobbs backing, according to McAdams. The longtime broadcaster set the scene by describing more than 10,000 people in the stands and fans lined up behind the fences and standing three deep on the track.
Vernon Patterson, the speedy cornerback (he'd been an "orchestra nerd" who played the cello when recruited to play football a few years earlier) intercepted a ball and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. And then McAdams, a World War II veteran of multiple bombing missions, got a little excited himself as Carlsbad scored a touchdown late in the game with Hobbs leading 21-14.
Nobody understands why Carlsbad opted for the tying point after and not the go-ahead two-point conversion. Maybe they thought they could hold Hobbs. Or perhaps - Pryer theorized decades later - Carlsbad thought it would win a tie game based on first downs. At the time, however, the winner of a high school tie game was decided on red-zone penetrations. If penetrations were tied, first downs would be the next determining factor for a win.
When Carlsbad kicked off with the score now 21-21, both teams had three penetrations. Hobbs got a good return and took the ball to its own 40-yard line. Jim Whitley – the tough-as-a-boot fullback – plowed up the middle a couple times for important yardage. And so, with time running out, Ethridge called his quarterback to the sidelines.
He said, ‘All we need is a penetration to win this,’and he had that look like he always gets,” Pryer said. “He had confidence that we were going to do it."
The call was for Dan Foster to roll out on a hook route. Pryer hit him in the numbers, Foster made the catch just inside the 20 and fell to the ground as the clock ran out. Hobbs fans erupted into delirium while Carlsbad players left the field with their heads down. Ethridge told the players to wear their helmets as the they boarded the bus. They’d already had rocks thrown at them earlier in the season after a win at Santa Fe.
Nearly 42 years later, Pryer was still choked with emotion when he recalls his winning throw. “We was all out there to perform and do the best we could for the coaches and the city of Hobbs and our parents,” Pryer said. “It was a special time – very special.
- The most memorable game for Erwin Johnson, the offensive guard dubbed by teammate Mike Cooper as the “best high school player he ever saw,” came on a torturous 1970 day in Clovis. “The ground was frozen; it was like playing on cement,” said Johnson, who was mild-mannered off the field but a menace on it. Hobbs was leading 12-6 but Clovis had the ball on the two-foot line with less than a minute remaining. “And rather than run the ball, they threw a pass,” Johnson said.“Bobby Gamble intercepted the ball and was running down the sideline and one of their guys jumped off the bench and tackled him.” Hobbs got the touchdown call and won the game18-6 but probably would never have made the 1970 state championship game had Clovis simply called a running play just inches from its own end zone.
- Coach Charlie Williams still remembers the 1972 Carlsbad game that “validated me as a coach.” Late in the game at Watson Field, the score was tied at 21-21. “Coach Pat Tone called a run play for a two-point conversion,” Williams said. “We had never run it before, we had never discussed it. But it was all part of a system we had brought from Monahans. That system, according to Pat McMurray, was a key to three years of incredible success. Students at Highland, Heizer and Houston “ran the same exact offense and defense as the high school,”said McMurray, who would spend his career teaching, coaching and later being a principal in Hobbs. “(By the time we got to high school) there were no plays to learn. We knew our position. We knew the system. You knew the coaches and you knew what was expected of you.”
HHS football players from the 1970, 1971 & 1972 teams still remember when they:
- Dressed for away games. Their out of town uniform was a gold blazer with a shirt and tie or turtleneck. Players also carried their helmets, termed “war bonnets,” with them into restaurants and all public places. Quarterbacks carried the football with them at all times. “You had to carry yourself as a gentlemen,” said Pete Farmer, who would make a career with the Hobbs Police Department despite the “licks” he got from Coach Pat Tone for talking too much. “They wouldn’t put up with any cussing or horseplay,” Farmer said.
- Participated in “stick-wrestling” drills. Players would square off against each other and wrestle over a two-foot piece of stick, an exercise that built strength and camaraderie. Unless you happened to stick wrestle against Dan Foster, who was merciless and would often leave his opponents with black eyes, bloody noises and bruised egos. Foster went on to play four years of college football at the University of Maryland, then became an orthopedic surgeon. He also would pass along his“stick-wrestling” genes. Foster’s son plays football for the University ofAlabama.
- Wore “bell helmets.” Small and with little padding, the helmets are dwarfed by today’s aerodynamically designed and much larger football helmets.
- Were subjected to cruel degradation. If Coach Doug Ethridge was really angry, Mike Cooper said, he’d tell players to go out and “knock the opponent on their pa-tootie.” And “lolly-gagging around” was not tolerated.
- Enjoyed reading ‘Markins by Manny,’ a column written by Hobbs News Sun sports editor Manny Marquez. Marquez was in his mid-20s when covering the 1970-72 teams and had played on a state championship Artesia football team only a few years earlier. But he would quickly switch allegiance while going onto chronicle HHS athletics for the next three decades. “Ole Manny, he sure had a way with words, didn’t he? ” Arnold Thomas laughed as he and teammates looked through a scrapbook of articles written by Marquez.
- Got free A&W root beer every time they won a game. The A&W franchise was then located near City Park and players would head to the drive in immediately after practice to fill up on gallons of free root beer after practice every day. Which is perhaps why there is no longer an A&W franchise at that location. And which is also why many of the men consider root beer their favorite drink.